N.H. Lawmakers Reject Marriage Equality Repeal Bill

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday March 21, 2012

New Hampshire lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have repealed the state's marriage equality law.

The 211-116 vote came more than two hours after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spoke out against House Bill 437. One hundred Republicans were among those who opposed HB 437.

"This body has set forth a ping pong ball on people's lives," said state Rep. Jennifer Coffey (R-Andover.)

State Rep. Keith Murphy (R-Bedford) cited a gay relative who has been in a same-sex relationship for two years when he spoke against HB 437. State Rep. Cameron De Jong (R-Manchester) referenced his faith as he testified against the marriage equality repeal bill that state Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) introduced.

"God is my judge and today I ask you to support equal rights under the law," he said.

Legislators voted against an amendment to HB 437 that would have replaced the state's marriage equality law with one that would have allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Lawmakers also rejected a proposal that would have placed a non-binding referendum on marriage for same-sex couples on the ballot and a motion to debate a measure that would have banned marriage for left-handed people.

"The rights of the people are not subjected to popular vote," said Murphy.

State Rep. Warren Goern (R-Rochester) dismissed two WMUR/University of New Hampshire Survey Center polls that roughly 60 percent of residents oppose HB 437 as he spoke in support of the proposed referendum. State Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-Salem) stressed that the repeal of New Hampshire's marriage equality law will further bolster the family and society.

"The case for marriage is based on the facts of biology and sociology," she said.

State Rep. David Bates (R-Windham), who introduced HB 437, defended his bill throughout the nearly two hour debate that grew increasingly contentious at times. He equated marriage equality to incest and referenced the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision that struck down the country's remaining anti-sodomy laws in a final attempt to urge legislators to support the measure.

"The purpose of the original legislation is to undo the changes made to the marriage law back in Jan. 2010... and go back to the original meaning of marriage, which has always been between a man and a woman," he said.

"Today is a banner day for the freedom to marry," said Craig Stowell, co-chair of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families. "Our opponents have been crowing about getting their two-thirds, but in the end, it's clear they couldn't muster the votes. This is a victory for our supporters -- the majority of Granite Staters who oppose any roll back of marriage equality--because they reached out time and again and told lawmakers to leave this law alone."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also applauded the vote.

"Today's big victory is a testament to the bipartisan groundswell throughout the state to keep the popular marriage law on the books," he said. "This victory was made possible by Republicans and conservatives standing up for freedom and family. Clearly, Granite Staters believe this is a settled issue, and it's time to move on."

New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen praised lawmakers who voted against HB 437.

"I want to praise all the Democrats and Republicans in the New Hampshire House who came together today to stand up against efforts to repeal gay marriage in our state," she told EDGE in a statement shortly after the vote. "We must continue to push back against discrimination and any efforts to undo the progress that has been made to advance equal rights for gay and lesbian couples."

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, noted GOP lawmakers were instrumental in HB 437's demise.

"Log Cabin Republicans celebrate the fact that this historic vote happened in a legislature with not just a Republican majority, but a super-majority," he said. "This is a good day for all New Hampshire families, and we are proud of the hard work by Republican leaders across the state who helped to make this victory possible."

New Hampshire is among the eight states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

HB 437's defeat comes less than a month after Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed his state's marriage equality bill into law. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire in February signed a measure that will allow gays and lesbians to marry in her state. New Jersey lawmakers also approved a similar measure last month, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it.

North Carolina voters in May will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that will ban marriage for same-sex couples. Minnesotans will consider a similar measure in November, while voters in neighboring Maine will vote on a referendum to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.